Brian Vickers claimed his fourth pole position of the season in qualifying for the Sonoma round of the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series.
The Red Bull driver beat Kyle Busch's benchmark by 0.215 second to score his second consecutive pole this season and his first ever on a road course. His lap of 1m16.672s was more than a second faster than last year's pole time, partly due to a new softer tire compound brought by Goodyear.
Toyota drivers swept the top three as Australian Marcos Ambrose was third fastest, taking the best qualifying result of his Cup career.
Vickers had been fifth fastest in practice but he made big gains on his qualifying lap, improving by more than six tenths of a second. Despite his effort being enough for pole, the 25-year-old felt he could have gone even faster.
"When I crossed the line I thought like I left a little bit on the table, just underdriving the car a little bit through the turns," Vickers said. "I've always tried to attack the kerbs and use them and you always make a mistake. You make one here and you leave a lot on the table. The team did a tremendous job in practice and we wanted to make no mistakes.
"I was really cautious and hit my marks and not hit any kerbs and it paid off."
Busch, who won both of last year's road course races, will start from the front row for the second week in a row, which is by far his best ever grid position at Sonoma.
"That was a really good run for us and I wasn't expecting to run that great," said Busch. "I feel like we made a lot of gains last year here and just kept those in the car for this year. We're excited about being on the front row here."
Ambrose had dominated practice earlier in the day but he could not match his speed during his qualifying lap, going around two tenths slower. Nevertheless, the Australian was happy to qualify in the top three for the first time in NASCAR's top series.
"I just got a little anxious," said Ambrose. "Just took a couple of kerbs a bit too strong and just didn't get the clean exits like I needed to. But I'm proud of the guys. We've had a great year so far and we're looking to really cement ourselves as a main player."
Points leader Tony Stewart had a solid qualifying in fourth, out-pacing the Hendrick Motorsports drivers while being the fastest Chevrolet. The two-time winner at Sonoma was more than half a second slower than the pole-sitter, though.
Kasey Kahne, last year's pole man, was the fastest Dodge driver in fifth, while Earnhardt Ganassi's Martin Truex Jr. was sixth ahead of Ryan Newman and Elliot Sadler. Road course specialist Boris Said was ninth as the fastest of the non-guaranteed drivers and also the quickest Ford, while Matt Kenseth rounded out the top 10.
While his team-mate celebrated yet another pole position, rookie Scott Speed failed to qualify the second Red Bull car on his first road course race in the Sprint Cup. The Californian ran wide through the esses while finishing his lap and only managed to be 39th fastest.
Tom Hubert, Chris Cook and Brian Simo also failed to qualify.TIMES:
Pos Driver Car Time Gap
1. Brian Vickers Toyota 1m16.475s
2. Kyle Busch Toyota 1m16.690s + 0.215s
3. Marcos Ambrose Toyota 1m16.918s + 0.443s
4. Tony Stewart Chevrolet 1m17.000s + 0.525s
5. Kasey Kahne Dodge 1m17.040s + 0.565s
6. Martin Truex Jr Chevrolet 1m17.048s + 0.573s
7. Ryan Newman Chevrolet 1m17.076s + 0.601s
8. Elliott Sadler Dodge 1m17.081s + 0.606s
9. Boris Said Ford 1m17.084s + 0.609s
10. Matt Kenseth Ford 1m17.097s + 0.622s
11. Jimmie Johnson Chevrolet 1m17.108s + 0.633s
12. Joey Logano Toyota 1m17.144s + 0.669s
13. Jeff Gordon Chevrolet 1m17.174s + 0.699s
14. Mark Martin Chevrolet 1m17.202s + 0.727s
15. Greg Biffle Ford 1m17.248s + 0.773s
16. Kevin Harvick Chevrolet 1m17.254s + 0.779s
17. Juan Montoya Chevrolet 1m17.319s + 0.844s
18. Sam Hornish Jr Dodge 1m17.325s + 0.850s
19. Dave Blaney Toyota 1m17.450s + 0.975s
20. AJ Allmendinger Dodge 1m17.462s + 0.987s
21. Casey Mears Chevrolet 1m17.505s + 1.030s
22. Robby Gordon Toyota 1m17.506s + 1.031s
23. Jamie McMurray Ford 1m17.556s + 1.081s
24. Denny Hamlin Toyota 1m17.568s + 1.093s
25. Bobby Labonte Ford 1m17.570s + 1.095s
26. Clint Bowyer Chevrolet 1m17.612s + 1.137s
27. Kurt Busch Dodge 1m17.615s + 1.140s
28. Reed Sorenson Dodge 1m17.824s + 1.349s
29. Ron Fellows Chevrolet 1m17.833s + 1.358s
30. Paul Menard Ford 1m17.880s + 1.405s
31. Joe Nemechek Toyota 1m17.926s + 1.451s
32. David Gilliland Chevrolet 1m17.997s + 1.522s
33. Max Papis Toyota 1m18.059s + 1.584s
34. Carl Edwards Ford 1m18.082s + 1.607s
35. Dale Earnhardt Jr Chevrolet 1m18.287s + 1.812s
36. Jeff Burton Chevrolet 1m18.350s + 1.875s
37. PJ Jones Toyota 1m18.359s + 1.884s
38. Patrick Carpentier Toyota 1m18.806s + 2.331s
39. David Stremme Dodge 1m18.811s + 2.336s
40. David Ragan Ford 1m18.887s + 2.412s
41. John Andretti Chevrolet 1m18.909s + 2.434s
42. David Reutimann Toyota 1m19.070s + 2.595s
43. Brandon Ash Dodge 1m18.641s + 2.166s
Did not qualify:
Scott Speed Toyota 1m18.743s + 2.268s
Tom Hubert Toyota 1m18.744s + 2.269s
Chris Cook Dodge 1m19.222s + 2.747s
Brian Simo Toyota 1m27.104s + 10.629s